May 23, 2024

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An endless bounty of tasty trumpet players whose names are largely forgotten or unfamiliar: John Plonsky: Cool Man Cool: Video

The 1950s provide us with an endless bounty of tasty trumpet players whose names are largely forgotten or unfamiliar. On Monday I posted about Johnny Glasel and his Brasstet. Today, I’m focusing on John Plonsky and his sole leadership album, Cool Man Cool (1957).

First, some background on Plonsky. Little is known about the trumpeter, but here’s what I could piece together from a bit of online research. Plonsky seems to have started his jazz career on the West Coast. In 1945, at age 19, he wrote arrangements for Ray Bauduc, the drummer for the Bob Crosby Orchestra who formed a short-lived big band with saxophonist Gil Rodin right after World War II. In 1946, Plonsky recorded four sides with Charles Mingus in Los Angeles.

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In a 1948 issue of Billboard, Plonsky turns up playing and arranging for Alvy West, an alto saxophonist and leader of a compact band that featured a trumpet, alto sax, accordion, two guitars, bass and drums. The ensemble included Bob Caudana on accordion and Chuck Wayne on guitar. There also was a vocal group. According to Billboard, “Vocal arrangements for the Larkin Sisters’ vocal group are again a radical departure. The gals are blended into the ork intricacies, at times lyricizing and, at times, humming instrumental patterns.”

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I’m not sure what Plonsky did during the early and mid-1950s. According to the Jazz Discography, he didn’t record again until March 1957, when he put together a quintet for the Golden Crest label in New York. The album was Cool Man Cool and featured John Plonsky (tp), Carl Janelli (bar), Dominic Cortese (accord), Chet Amsterdam (b), Mel Zelnick (d) and Betty Ann Blake (vcl). Plonsky handled the arrangements.

Songs on the album composed by Plonsky are Laurel and Hardy (a fabulous arrangement), Angel Hair, Calico Shoes, Funkier Than Thou and Blonde Caboose. The rest are standards—The Lady Is a Tramp, But Not For Me, Puttin’ on the Ritz, Just in Time, How About You and I’ll Take Romance. The standards featured Blake, who had a pleasant, dry vocal style.

The music and instrumentation are terrific. The amplified accordion provides an orchestral texture behind the trumpet and baritone saxophone, and all of the players are superb on harmony. As for Plonsky, he had a warm and open tone on the trumpet.

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Plonsky would record on two more jazz sessions—Dixieland Goes Progressive for Golden Crest in June 1957 (his band is on one side, Dick Cary’s on the other) and on Lou McGarity’s album In Celebration in 1964, where Plonsky appears as “John Parker.” Which tells us he was under contract to another label or entity at the time.

And that’s where the jazz trail ends for Plonsky. I have no idea what happened to him after that and there doesn’t appear to be much information online. More than likely, Plonsky began writing for television in the early 1950s and never stopped.

Shortly after this post went up, Peter Levin wrote in: “You’re absolutely right about John Polsky’s TV career, except that Parker wasn’t a pseudonym—he changed his name. As John Parker, he taught film composing at USC, and amassed an impressive list of TV credits in the 1970s and ‘80s. He last surfaced (briefly) with a Facebook page and website in 2010, when he was living in Costa Rica. He would have been 84 that year.”

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